Yeasted English Muffin Bread
English Muffin Bread is a nice light bread that makes excellent toast. It has attractive big holes and a very nice, subtle taste. I hadn't made this bread in at least seven years, and my wife was at once surprised and delighted by this bread. I think that, in addition to finding it to be easy to make, you'll like it too.
This recipe is from James Beard's "Beard On Bread," one of my all-time favorite bread books. I have changed the instructions considerably because I want you to notice some things as you make the bread that James Beard didn't point out to his readers.
This recipe is for one good size loaf.
1 package active, dry yeast(1)(2)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water, 90 to 100F (3)
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
7/8 cup warm milk, 90 to 100F, (3)
1/4 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 tbsp warm water
Notes about ingredients:
1. This is about 2 1/2 tsp of active dry yeast.
2. If you use instant yeast, use about 1 1/2 tsp.
3. If you use too warm a water or milk, you can cook the yeast, which will keep the bread from rising. Don't use water over 100F! But how warm a water should you use?
Bakers have also found that the only really effective control they have over temperature is through water. It's easy for most of us to use hotter or colder water as needed.
To make a dough the right temperature, subtract the room temperature and flour temperature (in Fahrenheit) from 240.
If you want to get even more precise, subtract how much your dough temperature will rise in kneading from that. When you knead dough, the friction of the flour grains will cause the dough temperature to rise. Some mixers heat up the dough more than others, and whole grain flours heat the dough more than refined flours, so it is a good idea to check each recipe.
Determining how much the dough will heat up in kneading is very simple. Take the dough's temperature when it just comes together, and then again when you are done kneading it. The difference is how much the dough heated up. The first time, just use 5 degrees.
A quick example. Your room temperature is 70 degrees, your flour temperature is also 70 degrees (more often than not, the flour and room will be at the same temperature). You have found that your kneading heats the dough by 10 degrees. So, you calculate 240-70-70-10, which is 90. You should use 90-degree water to get the correct dough temperature.
What about our friends who use Celsius or Centigrade? Your ideal dough temperature should be about 25C. So, the rule for Celsius would be 78. Subtract your flour and room temperatures, along with the temperature rise from 78.
There are two last wrinkles to the rule of 240 (or 78). In extreme weather the formula may call on you to use water that is too hot (more than 100F, or 38C), or water that is too cold (less than 40F or 4C) for the health of the yeast. The goal in this case is to protect the yeast from direct contact with the hot, or cold, water. I put the water into my mixing bowl, put the flour on top of that, then add the yeast and mix it into the flour. This will protect the yeast from the extreme water temperature, as the water temperature will change as soon as it mixes with the flour.
The last wrinkle is that when you are using sourdough or other preferments the rule of 240 becomes the rule of 320. Take the temperature of the sourdough or other preferment as well as the temperature of the flour, water and room. Subtract all from 320, rather than 240. If you are using Celsius, this becomes the rule of 100.
Put the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast into a mixing bowl. Add the water and milk. Stir well. The idea is to stir this until it is smooth, and to develop gluten in the dough through stirring. Gluten is a stringy protein that gives bread its structure. It is a major protein in wheat flour. The stirring process helps align the gluten. As you stir, you'll see strands begin to form. This technique is used in many Italian breads, because Italian flours have a lot less protein than American flours. Stirring also helps combine ingredients and get the dough ready for kneading. (This bread is a batter bread, batter breads aren't kneaded, so we won't be kneading this dough. This discussion is here to pave the way to the next bread, which you will knead.)
Once the dough is well stirred, which should only take a few minutes, it's time to cover it and let rise until doubled in size. This should take about an hour to an hour and a half. During this time, the yeast will help further develop the gluten. The lighting changed as we made the breads, so the first two pictures came out much too brown... the color in the rest of the pictures is much more accurate.
Now, add the baking soda dissolved in water, and stir the dough to deflate it and mix in the baking soda and water. You'll see strands of gluten, sticking to the side of the bowl and your spoon. You want the dough to be small and smooth again.
Once the dough is smooth, it's time to pour it into a greased bread pan, and to smooth the surface, either with a spatula or floured hands. The dough is quite sticky. As soon as you get the dough out of the mixing and rising bowl, fill the bowl with water - it will make cleanup a lot easier! Once again, cover the bread pan and allow the bread to rise in a warm place until it's doubled in size, which should take about an hour or so.
About 40 minutes into this rise, start pre-heating the oven. That is, turn it on and set the oven temperature to 375F. Once the rise is complete, and the oven is at the correct temperature, put the loaf of bread into the oven to bake.
Check the loaf about 25 minutes later. You want a nicely browned loaf that has begun to pull away from the edges of the bread pan. This bread is intended to be toasted, so you needn't bake it as completely as the previous loaf. When you think the loaf is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack and in the pan for 5 minutes or so. Then gently remove it from the pan and let it cool completely on the rack. This is a very fragile bread, so be careful or you could tear it up!
Once it's cool, slice it into 1/2-inch slices, toast, and enjoy!